Redeeming Clinton

     Bill Clinton had a famous preoccupation with his 
"legacy." This anxiety seemed laughable after his 
multiple disgraces -- his sordid sexual behavior, his 
impeachment and near-conviction, his disbarment, his 
habitual mendacity, and his final departure from office 
with nakedly cynical pardons of his criminal pals, his 
own pockets stuffed, as it were, with White House 
properties. His crookedness had become a national, no, a 
global joke. Such, it appeared, was his "legacy," beyond 
any hope of redemption.

     He can stop worrying. I have always said, only half 
in jest, that every president makes his predecessors seem 
better than they really were, and George W. Bush has 
added several cubits to Clinton's stature. It is not only 
liberals who say this; more and more conservatives are 
reaching the conclusion that Bush is much worse than 
Clinton by conservative standards, though much of the 
credit for Clinton's comparative restraint in expanding 
the size and power of government must go to the 
Republicans in Congress who, more recently, have so 
shamefully cooperated with Bush.

     That said, Clinton, for all his faults, was more 
cautious than Bush anyway. In fact a good case might be 
made that Bush is in most respects the more liberal of 
the two men.

     The Iraq Study Group has issued its report, further 
dimming whatever luster still accrues to this president. 
The "bipartisan" commission agreed that the war has been, 
to put it gently, a misfortune, "grave and 
deteriorating." Yet Bush continues to resist conceding 
anything more than minor mistakes in its conduct, as if 
it were an inspired idea that has somehow hit a few 
snags. He promises to study the ISG's 79 specific 
proposals and make adjustments, but his notorious 
stubbornness will surely prevent any major course 

     With barely two years remaining in what has become 
the ordeal of his presidency, the Republicans dread the 
prospect of facing the 2008 elections with U.S. troops 
still dying in Iraq. And the Democrats, much as they 
criticize the war, are not about to rescue them by using 
their new congressional majorities to pull the plug on 
it. Leaving the Republicans with this albatross might be 
a good thing for Clinton -- Hillary Clinton, I mean now, 
though it would be even better for her likely rival 
Barack Obama, who has flatly opposed the war from the 

     Apart from Bush himself, the most enthusiastic 
remaining GOP hawk is Arizona's John McCain, widely 
considered the front-runner for the party's 2008 
presidential nomination. McCain too still wants victory 
in Iraq and is eager to send more troops to salvage it. 
The ISG report, which favors a pullback of American 
troops, views this as a dubious option; I view it as 

     So by a remarkable irony, Bush, like Bill Clinton, 
now faces his own legacy problem. He has bet his 
historical reputation on the Iraq war, but only one in 
six Americans agrees with him that the United States is 
winning. And even that sorry ratio keeps shrinking.

Viva Fidel!

     The liberal press greeted the death of Chile's 
Augusto Pinochet with headlines that were more like 
editorials than disinterested news reports.

     THE NEW YORK TIMES: "Augusto Pinochet, 91, Dictator 
Who Ruled by Terror in Chile, Dies." THE WASHINGTON POST: 
"A Chilean Dictator's Dark Legacy." And so on.

     Notice that "reactionary" rulers are always 
"dictators" and "strongmen," whose crimes are highlighted 
in our liberal press; whereas "progressive" rulers -- 
such as Communists -- are "leaders," whose achievements 
are glowingly enumerated. I first caught on to this in 
1976, when I was struck by the contrast between the 
obituaries of Mao Zedong and Francisco Franco, who died a 
few weeks apart. To read them, you'd have thought Franco 
was the mass murderer, while Mao's enormous crimes were 
barely hinted at in the eulogies of his heroic reign.

     So when Fidel Castro finally bids this world 
good-night, we can expect to read litanies of praise for 
his "leadership," the elimination of illiteracy (never 
mind his totalitarian control of what Cubans can read), 
socialized medicine (never mind his firing squads, 
prisons, murders of people trying to escape), and of 
course his personal charm and magnetism. Even now, many 
liberals are still Communists at heart.

Benign Reality

     Columnist Ruth Marxist -- I mean Marcus -- of the 
aforementioned POST has hailed the pregnancy of Mary 
Cheney, Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter (who is "married" 
to another woman), as a sign of "the benign reality of 
gay families today."

     It seems that Hillary Clinton got it wrong ten years 
ago. It doesn't "take a village" to raise a child; it 
takes only a couple of perverts.

Down Memory Lane

     Jeffrey Hart, my old colleague at NATIONAL REVIEW, 
has written a splendid history of the magazine, THE 
deals briefly with my own travails there; and though I'd 
take issue with a few of his remarks about the episode 
that led to my firing, he is on the whole very generous 
to me.

     More important, Hart supplies wonderfully vivid and 
perceptive portraits of the men who made the magazine, in 
its early years, one of the most stimulating political 
journals this country has ever seen. Its recent sad 
decline has unfortunately obscured the memory of what it 
once was, but Hart reminds us of the days when its pages 
boasted such gifted and seminal writers as James Burnham, 
Willmoore Kendall, Whittaker Chambers, Hugh Kenner, Frank 
Meyer, Russell Kirk, and of course the young Bill Buckley 
himself. (Even the names I omit here would make an 
impressive roster.)

     It was my great privilege to know most of these 
colorful men personally, yet thanks to Hart I know them 
better now. Other readers will see why they deserve to be 
remembered; Jim Burnham in particular, Buckley's mentor 
and foreign policy sage, was, as Hart rightly says, 
"indispensable." This was borne out, alas, after a stroke 
forced him to retire. A bit of his wisdom over the past 
two decades (he died in 1987) would have saved NATIONAL 
REVIEW from shaming itself with puerile enthusiasm for 
the two Bushes.

     This book is intellectual history that reads like a 
novel, delightfully blending ideas and gossip. For me its 
chief defect is that, at 394 pages, it's far too short. 
But you can enjoy it even if you aren't a former senior 

                 +          +          +                  

     You should be reading SOBRAN'S, the intellectual 
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                                        --- Joseph Sobran


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